Henry Cort

Henry Cort (1740 – May 23 1800) was an English ironmaster. During the Industrial Revolution in England, Cort began refining iron from pig iron to wrought iron (or bar iron) using innovative production systems. In 1783 he patented the puddling process for refining iron ore. The Henry Cort Community College bears his name, located in the large town of Fareham, in the south of Hampshire, England.

Early life

The son of a builder, Cort was born in Lancaster in 1740. As a young man, he worked as a Royal Navy pay agent in London, where his interest in the poor quality of English iron against overseas supplies developed, leading to his inventions that greatly increased the quality of iron production. He left his job as an agent in 1775. His 1768 marriage to Elizabeth Heysham had connected him to the Attwick family of Gosport, and to Elizabeth's uncle, William Attwick. Cort joined Attwick in the family iron business, living and working in Gosport.

Commerce, innovation, and ruin

With an increase in demand for iron goods from the Royal Navy, the ironworking enterprise in Middle Street, Gosport flourished, but was strained by a 1779 contract for re-rolling barrel hoops for the Navy Vitualling Board. To cope with this, Cort set up an iron works in Fontley, Hampshire. This was a rolling mill, and here he developed his ideas, leading to patents in 1783 for the grooved rolling process and 1784 for his balling or pudding furnace, allowing the manufacture of crude, standardized shapes. His work built on the existing ideas of the Cranege brothers and their reverberatory furnace (where the heat is applied from above, rather than forced air from below) and Peter Onions' puddling process where the iron is stirred to separate out impurities and extract the higher quality wrought iron. The "puddler" extracts a mass of iron from the furnace using a rabbling bar. The extracted ball of metal is then processed into a shingle by a shingling hammer, after which it is rolled in a rolling mill.

His partnership in the Fontley Mill was with Samuel Jellicoe (son of Adam Jellicoe, who had important Navy connections, and great-grand father of the hero of Jutland Admiral Jellicoe (1859-1935)). The partnership eventually turned out very badly, but initially the elder Jellicoe financed Cort's experimentation with large sums and a wharf at Gosport was purchased. Adam Jellicoe's death (1789) revealed Adam to be effectively bankrupt, and so Cort's debts to Jellicoe were called in to settle the estate. These included the patents which were thus taken over by the Government. The younger Jellicoe was given sole control of the mill and wharf although he (as Cort's partner) also had to repay his father's debts- mostly to the Navy. Cort's process was not suitable for coke-smelted pig iron and various improvements were made which did not infringe the patents. Although Cort was soon discharged from bankruptcy, his career was ruined.

Cort married twice. A short-lived marriage to Elizabeth Brown was succeeded by his marriage in 1768 to Elizabeth Heysham, with whom he had a large family. However, his business ventures did not bring him wealth, even though vast numbers of the puddling furnaces that he developed were eventually used (reportedly 8,200 by 1820) as they used a modified version of his process. He was later awarded a government pension, but died a ruined man, and was buried in Hampstead churchyard in London.

Further reading

* R. A. Mott (ed. P. Singer), "Henry Cort: the Great Finer" (The Metals Society, London 1983)
* H. W. Dickinson, Henry Cort's Bicentenary, in "The Newcomen Society", Transactions 1940-41, volume XXI, 1943.

External links

* [http://www.tilthammer.com/bio/cort.html Henry Cort] - brief biography
* [http://homepage.ntlworld.com/paul.hawkins.tyd/Tyd/HenryCort.htm Henry Cort] - another brief biography
* [http://www3.hants.gov.uk/gdc/gosport-dc-local-studies/local-history-online/henry-cort The Gosport Iron Foundry and Henry Cort]
* [http://henrycort.net Henry Cort, Father of the Iron Trade] - dedicated website following 5 years of research

NAME=Cort, Henry
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Industrial Revolution ironmaster
PLACE OF BIRTH=Lancaster, England
DATE OF DEATH=May 23 1800

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